I wish this were fiction but it isn’t; tomorrow we decide as a nation whether to stay in the European Union or leave it, and the level of debate has been frankly juvenile. With the exception of a significant number of mostly women politicians, some of whom represent the other home nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the key encounters have consisted of bluster, bluff, and braying bellicosity among a small number of men. Tories on the whole and from the same government, with UKIP tagging along seeming to be having the time of its life. It made me wonder who actually wanted this referendum; what was the driving force and where this sudden surge of nationalism came from. Then I wondered what nationalism I was thinking of. Well not the Scots – by all accounts the main reason they voted to stay in the UK was because leaving would have meant negotiating their own membership of the EU and they are in favour of the EU. Wales? They get a great deal of funding from the EU so probably not the Welsh. What about Northern Ireland, then? They border directly onto Ireland (Eire) which is not part of the UK so it will still be a member of the EU after our vote. That border is presently fluid, the two parties having at last put aside the terrible times of the Troubles and become neighbours, crossing and trading freely across a barely perceptible international line. I doubt they would be happy about having to close that border and return to the restrictive regulations of the past.
So what’s left?
What’s left is England which is protected on all sides by sea or friendly home nations but seems to want to cut itself off. Or at least some do. But it isn’t Labour even though some seem a bit luke warm; nor is it the Lib Dems or the Greens, and certainly not the SNP; they’ve been somewhat steamrollered into this by other forces. Predictably, UKIP is a front runner but it isn’t the main player, that’s the Conservatives oddly fighting both sides of the argument from the same side of the House. But when I condense that down I find just four MPs slugging it out – Cameron and Osborne; Boris and Gove – which makes it look less like a national referendum than a school debating society which got out of hand and in which everyone wants to win but no one is actually invested in the outcome.
Those four will be fine whatever happens; they’re political animals and they know how to survive in that world. Some of their colleagues further down the food chain will probably be casualties – too high profile to go unnoticed but not powerful enough to make their own way if they were on the ‘wrong’ side. But what about the rest of us? If we leave, how long before Scotland has another referendum and subsequently cuts its ties with us? Would Wales seek to ally itself with the Scots? And Northern Ireland – the fears for Northern Ireland are that reinstating that border would revive the worst of the nationalist conflicts from which both sides are just recovering. Maybe they would overcome that and once again become a united Ireland; or perhaps they would join with Wales and Scotland to form a kind of Celtic union. Staying with England would seem to be the least favourable option for any of them and raises the prospect of it becoming a nation bordered on all sides not by sea and home nations but sea and nations to which the English would no longer have easy access.
When the dust settles, it will be business as usual for Cameron, Osborne, Boris, and Gove. But they may only be the boss of England; just one Kingdom united with itself and no Britain to make Great, and all because of four men in a one-party power struggle.